By Simon Evans
BURTON ON TRENT, England (Reuters) – Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley is back in the England squad after an absence of over two years and believes he is finally ready to fulfil his potential.
Barkley made his debut for England at the age of 19 and was tipped for the top, but has not featured during manager Gareth Southgate’s reign, missing out on the World Cup in Russia.
A protracted departure from his boyhood club Everton and a long-term injury limited Barkley to just two Premier League appearances last season.
Yet following the arrival of Italian coach Maurizio Sarri at Stamford Bridge, Barkley has made an impressive start to this season.
“I’ve had difficult times over the last two years,” he told a news conference after training with England ahead of their Nations League games against Croatia on Friday and Spain on Monday.
“But I’ve kept a positive mind, worked really hard, fitness wise I’m feeling as good as I’ve ever felt before and I’m looking forward to the games ahead and the rest of the season.
“I’m over the moon to be back. It’s been a long time coming but I feel like I’ve worked hard over the last two years and I feel like it’s probably deserved.”
Barkley certainly appears to be a more confident character than when he was a young member of former England manager Roy Hodgson’s squad.
“I feel much more mature now, I feel like I’m ready to show what I’m capable of. To show I can produce the goods on game day,” he said.
“Maybe over the last few years I’ve been a bit inconsistent but now I’m fully focused on giving consistent performances.”
A Liverpudlian, who joined Everton as a schoolboy, Barkley’s departure from Goodison Park, as he ran his contract down, was a drawn out and painful affair, but one he has put behind him.
“It was difficult, it was always going to be as a local lad from Liverpool, supporting Everton from a young age, it is always going to be hard,” he said.
“I had a difficult spell in my last couple of years at the club and it was hard for me to leave but I thought that it was the right decision, Chelsea are a massive club and I feel like the rewards are coming now.”
The attacking central midfielder is certainly enjoying playing alongside Chelsea’s Belgium international Eden Hazard.
“He is inspirational. He’s a magnificent player. You can see how he’s started the season and the World Cup that he had. You don’t get many like him, he’s capable of magic at any moment,” he said.
Hazard said recently that he considers Real Madrid his “dream” club, but Barkley is hoping for some more time with the Belgian winger.
“He’s a great player. He’s been at Chelsea for a long time now, he’s achieved so much but I can’t speak for Eden, he knows in his mind what he wants. But I’d love to play with him for many more years,” he said.
Barkley is still only 24 but with a younger generation of players beginning to emerge behind him, it could be a crucial moment for him to re-establish himself with England.
Having come through some tough times, he is confident that he can live up to the expectations that surrounded him as a teenager.
“I feel I’m better equipped now. I’ve had expectations on me from a young age and I’ve dealt with them. I’ve been through difficult spells, but I feel like I’m coming out of it now as a better player,” he said.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)